Undergraduate Research Program

Pain Program Faculty


Michael Bruchas - Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

Website: http://www.bruchaslab.org/people-1/

Description: Neuromodulation, Neural Circuits, and Affective Behavior

Stress and pain-induced behavior is controlled by specific neurotransmitters and their signaling partners in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Many of these signals are conveyed through activation of neuropeptide and monoamine receptor systems. These receptors are seven transmembrane spanning G-protein coupled receptors (GPCR, also called 7 transmembrane receptors) and they engage a variety of signaling cascades following neurotransmitter release and receptor binding.

To expand our knowledge of the inner workings of the brain and to identify treatments for psychiatric diseases, the Bruchas laboratory aims to dissect how GPCR systems function in the contexts of stress, depression, addiction, and pain. We strive for a greater understanding of these receptors in real time, within intact systems, and biologically relevant models of behavior. We utilize pharmacological, optogenetic, genetic, viral, imaging, behavioral, and cutting-edge computational along with bio-engineering approaches to uncover the specific role of GPCRs and their endogenous transmitters within in vivo neural circuits that modulate affective behavior.

Students will have opportunities to learn cutting edge methods in neuroscience. These include optogenetic, pharmacological, behavioral, physiological, brain imaging, computation, biochemistry, and biomedical approaches. Additional responsibilities will be gained as the student works in one of many projects associated with neuromodulation in neural circuits.

Requirements: General Biology and Chemistry a plus.  Some neuroscience coursework a bonus, but not required.  Prior laboratory experience a plus, but not required.

Ajay Dhaka - Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Basis of Pain

Website: https://depts.washington.edu/biostr/people/dhaka-ajay-kumar

Description: In the Dhaka lab, we take a multifaceted approach to understand the molecular, anatomical and developmental basis of pain sensation. Students will employ a wide variety of molecular, genetic, imaging and behavioral approaches to understand how the pain sensation is encoded by the nervous system.

Requirements: Completed the Biol 180, 200, 220 series. Laboratory experience is preferred.

Mark Jensen - Rehabilitation Medicine

Website: https://www.uwmedicine.org/bios/mark-jensen

Description: Research has demonstrated that a person’s psychological response to pain plays a unique role in how much pain interferes with function. Two common pain-related psychological factors that appear to be particularly important are (1) pain self-efficacy and (2) pain catastrophizing.

Pain self-efficacy is a positive psychological factor referring to one’s confidence that they can continue to function (e.g., doing household chores, socializing, working) despite pain. Pain catastrophizing is a psychological domain referring to one’s tendency to think catastrophically in response to pain; ruminating frequently about pain and referring to pain and its impact in exaggerated terms (e.g., “My pain is the worst it could possibly be,” “My pain is never going to get any better”). Evidence suggests that each of these constructs play unique roles in determining pain’s impact on one’s life.

The project will involve using pre-existing data to examine how pain self-efficacy and pain catastrophizing are associated with the relationship between pain intensity (the severity of one’s pain) and pain interference (how much pain interferes with one’s life) in adults with chronic pain. It will result in paper submitted for publication. Thus, the student would be involved in all aspects of preparing and submitting a scientific article for publication (and likely be a co-author on the resulting paper).

Requirements: The ideal application would have past exposure/coursework related to health science research and scientific writing, and an ability to read and interpret scientific literature. An introductory background in statistics is also preferred.

Dale Langford - Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

Website: https://depts.washington.edu/anesth/administration/faculty/research.shtml

Description: Chronic pain is exceedingly complex and often co-occurs with other symptoms; as such, a multidimensional approach to the study, assessment, and management of chronic pain is necessary. As a Scan Design Innovations in Pain Research Summer Student, you will be involved in secondary analyses of existing patient-reported outcome data aimed at understanding inter-individual variability in the experience of pain, and identifying risk and protective factors related to pain and pain interference. Data are derived from UW’s Center for Pain Relief’s web-based multidimensional pain assessment tool, called PainTracker. Additional possibilities, depending on your interest and timing of data availability, include analysis of pain in the context of cancer and/or pain in a military setting.

In addition, you will gain experience in the field through opportunities to: (1) attend weekly TelePain sessions (didactic and interactive case consultations with interprofessional panel of pain specialists) (2) shadow an experienced pain physician at the UW Center for Pain Relief; (3) learn about activities related to UW’s Center of Excellence in Pain Education; (4) participate in manuscript preparation that will lead to co-authorship.

Requirements: No special preparation or requirements necessary.

Emily Law - Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

Website: http://www.seattlechildrens.org/medical-staff/emily-f-law/

Description: Headache is a common and potentially debilitating condition in childhood, impacting as many as 1 in 3 children and adolescents. Many factors can contribute to children’s experience of headache and its impact on their daily lives, including psychological distress, activity participation, and family conflict. My research focuses on characterizing psychological and family functioning in youth with recurrent and chronic migraine and tension-type headache, and developing behavioral interventions that meet the treatment needs of youth who have chronic headache conditions and psychosocial comorbidities. Several specific research projects in the area of pediatric headache are available depending on the interests of the student.

Requirements: Enthusiasm about clinical research and an interest in childhood headache; Prior coursework in research methods and/or statistics is helpful but not required.

Kushang Patel - Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

Website: https://depts.washington.edu/anesth/administration/faculty/research.shtml

Description: Pain increases with advancing age, afflicting half of adults age 65 years and older in the United States. Our epidemiologic research has demonstrated that older persons with pain are more likely to have impairments in muscle strength, balance, and gait, all of which contribute to increased risks of disability, falls, and frailty. Several factors complicate pain management in older adults, including multimorbidity, polypharmacy, as well as age-associated changes in body composition, hepatic function, and renal function. Further, we have shown that pain often co-occurs with other activity-limiting symptoms (e.g., depression, insomnia, fatigue) in older adults and that fear of movement/falling is a common cognitive-behavioral response to pain. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop multimodal treatments that reduce the impact of pain in older adults.

Accordingly, our group conducts clinical and epidemiologic research to better understand pain in older persons and, in turn, we aim to translate these findings into effective treatments. Currently, we are conducting randomized clinical trials to investigate the effects of combining different types of physical exercise (e.g., stregnth, endurance, and neuromuscular skills training) with behavioral health skills training in older adults with chronic musculoskeletal pain. These trials involve the collection of biopsychosocial data ranging from objective measures of physical activity and capacity to quantitative sensory testing of pain processing. Depending on the student’s interests, there are opportunities to conduct research using data from clinical trials or large epidemiologic cohort studies.

Requirements: Some coursework in statistics or research methods would be helpful, but is not required.

Sean Rundell - Rehabilitation Medicine, Health Services Research

Website:  http://www.rehab.washington.edu/education/faculty/nonproviderbios/rundell.asp

Description: The goal of my research is to improve the delivery and quality of care for people with chronic musculoskeletal pain conditions. I mostly focus on back pain in older adults. Chronic musculoskeletal pain is a complex, biopsychosocial health condition, and most of my ongoing research projects involves working with an interdisciplinary team and using large data sets to better understand this complexity from both an individual patient level and a health systems level. The projects I am working on right now involve examining how having multiple chronic health conditions impacts outcomes of older adults with back pain. Other potential research projects that I may be working on this summer involve using spine imaging results and diagnosis codes to identify patients with a specific type of back pain, lumbar spinal stenosis. Once we identify this group of patients, we will then investigate what other chronic health conditions are common within this group and how these other health conditions impact the care they receive.

Requirements: Some experience or background with programming or data management would be helpful, but it’s not required. Familiarity with using health science databases and other library resources is also helpful.

Tonya Palermo - Pediatric Pain Management, Psychology; Jennifer Rabbitts - Pediatric Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

Website: https://www.seattlechildrens.org/research/centers-programs/child-health-behavior-and-development/labs/pediatric-pain-and-sleep-innovations-lab/current-lab-members/

Description: Children can develop chronic pain from an injury or as a consequence of a disease process. Pain can also be the problem itself without any specific identifiable injury or disease and is an important public health problem, with estimates of chronic pain in almost a quarter of youth worldwide. How people think about pain and how they react when they are in pain influences their adaptation. Biopsychosocial models of chronic pain emphasize the important role of individual psychological factors, social factors, and biological factors in the individual’s pain experience.

Our lab is interested in understanding how pain affects the lives of children and their families and how to prevent and manage pain so that it is not disabling. We study several different populations of children who have pain from surgery, injuries, or from chronic health conditions.  Our research has focused on the interrelationships of pain, sleep, and behavioral/psychological, and family factors. We have developed and evaluated cognitive-behavioral interventions to treat pain and to reduce sleep problems including internet-delivered interventions to improve access to treatment.

Several projects are available including a randomized controlled trial of a web-based pain management intervention for children with chronic pancreatitis pain, a study of the role of sleep deficiency in how children and adolescents respond to pain treatment, and a longitudinal study examining risk factors for chronic pain following major surgery in adolescents. Students can provide assistance with various aspects of data collection and management.

Requirements: Enthusiasm and interest in clinical research in pediatric pain management; Completion of a research methods course is very helpful but not required.